Archive for March, 2010

Day 37

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Bratislava. The old ghost has been slain. after nearly killing myself last time to come here in the sunshine was happiness itself.

Day 34

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

So the first month is down and 1289.7 miles are on the clock. I am sat in a t-shirt in Vienna and spring has sprung. I am starting to feel a lot further away from the office.

We left Prague and all the fun that it entailed with some random free presents from kind strangers and headed out of the city and went up and down for more miles than I care to think about. The czech republic appears to consist of hills and nothing else. That and snow. There was still half a metre left above 600m and the effort it took against headwinds to make it up each one then pedal as fast as possible down the back of it to try and gain as much distance as possible was to put it bluntly soul destroying.

The country itself is a bit of a surprise, imagine a very poor germany and you are there. Lots and lots of older cars, homesteads, little farms and the constant smell of wood smoke and sound of dogs barking as we ride past. Strange pubs with hundreds of stuffed animals on the walls, old farmers driving lada´s, families of deer walking through the snow, holes in the road and 24 hour night clubs on the borders which cost 65 euros to get in. It would have been nice to have more time to explore but time was pressing and we wanted to get through the worst of the weather and get onto the flatter plains of north Austria.

So in the end it took three days to get from Prague to Hollabrunn in Austria after sticking it on the main road and dicing with crazy truck drivers for the last 65 miles where we stayed with Danie from hospitalityclub who I had visited on the last time through the area.

The simple pleasure of there being no snow in Hollabrunn in comparison to the conditions I had to endure last time meant that it was a holiday within a holiday. An evening at a club that is a converted slaughter house watching a punk band, a vegan restaurant in the middle of nowhere with Danies friends and a very pleasent couple of days rest meant that we entered Vienna fresh with a following tailwind.

So Vienna is still Vienna. After the last time of working for some very shady people, baseball bats with teeth marks, serbians getting stabbed and a couple of months of schwarzfahren it is nice to come into the city with some spare cash in my pocket. Sachetorte in my favourite cafe, afternoons at the national gallery looking at the dutch masters collection, sunbathing in the park and drinks at mozarts make the old memories fade away. Getting back here more than anything feels like I have picked up on the old route and the journey is really starting. Either that or I am finally gaining closure. Best not to analyse it too much and just keep going. It is what it is.

Malte and I went to a map shop this morning where I spent the best part of 70 quid on maps for all the countries left as I felt it is easier to carry them on the bike then try and find them along the way. It is somewhat scary opening up the maps looking at the distances involved but if I can maintain the present pace then it should all be ok.

So from here onto Bratislava tomorrow which really should vanquish some demons after the last time which nigh on nearly killed me when I got caught in a blizzard then it looks like a dip into Hungary then Serbia and then someway down to Istanbul which will probably be made up as we go along if we can avoid the landmines, pot holes and the hospitality of the locals :)

Day 26

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Prauge. At last, it was only 25 miles this morning but it might as well have been twice that as I just could not get going no matter how much coffee or chocolate I consumed. But we made it and well, the difference between sleeping in a muddy field and this is quite dramatic. I think one of the best aspects about travelling on a bicycle is that you get to see the changes in how the cities develop from the villages to the towns until you wind your way through to the main square before puishing on out again.

We have an apartment for 14 euros a night, there is a bar serving big meals for less than a fiver round the corner and i plan to do nothing today other than fix my tent, wash my gear and sleep. lots and lots of sleep as this is the first day off the bike since holland.

I look forward to seeing how many drunk english people i meet here on stag do’s acting as fine cultural ambassadors but we shall see..

Day 25

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Out of Dresden to sleep next to a Czech railway line. The glamour never leaves this life.

We leftthe hostel in Dresden (which has banned any excessive swing on a hammock..) fairly late as we wanted to take one last look at what my forefathers did not manage to destroy and then found the road of the city and headed due south. Because of the late start we ended up cycling in the dark down the river Elbe into the Czech Republic. No big fanfare, no marching band but for me another country to add to the list and the very special moment that I will treasure for a long time, the speedo hitting its first 1000. Childish I know but in less than a month I have made it a lot further than I had originally envisaged.

As it became too dark to cycle we ended up sleeping next to a picnic bench which backed onto a railway line. The continous rumble of freight wagons through the night that appeared to be coming out of ford factory somewhere further away, the incessant rain and the bemused looks of the morning joggers did not detract from the fact that it was a great spot.

We left the cycle path when we saw that it would be an extra 60 miles to Prauge so we decided to take a short cut duirectly across the hills. through old mountain villages that have stood still, very reminiscent of Romania. Imagine Germany but everything is worn out. Older cars, lots of Trabants and Skodas and homesteads or smallholdings in every village. All with a crazy dog that for some unkown reason is worked into a state of apoplexy by the sight of a bicycle. People are fairly friendly but the overall reaction when people see us riding through is one of bemusement. I think it is more to the weather but people are still fairly distant but by no means as bad as in england where the cloud of paronia hovers over us all.

So after slogging it up more hills than I care to recall on our ’short’ cut we decided to call it a day after a beer and ended up sleeping in a field between two small villages. I spent the night contorted in the tent trying to stay dry as the weight of snow that had fallen during the night meant that the water was running straight through onto my sleeping bag. Fun.

Day 23

Friday, March 12th, 2010

So Berlin was fun. I had been told by a number of people that I would enjoy it but I did not know by quite how much. I ended up meeting up with Malte and staying with a couple of his friends, one of whom is set to be in Istanbul soon enough. Wonderful hospitality, interesting people and a bed what more could you ask for?

I think the thing that I most liked about Berlin was that as one person coined the phrase ‘it is a city of freaks’. But good freaks. It still feels safe, their is a conspicious lack of a malevolent air that seems to linger over England. People are stylish, you can drink and still smoke in the bars, you can live for next to nothing as the rent is so cheap, the only problem is that there is a lack of jobs but hey ho that is familiar situation.

So with Malte being a courier I had a whistlestop tour of the city with complete disregard to any traffic light or one way street sign. Cycling without the bags meant the bike felt 20 times faster and I tried to keep on Maltes back wheel as he belted through the city. They say that by the time you get to 30 you should have been through paris in the summer time in an open top sports car. Well I would add to that suggestion that you should hoon round Berlin for the day. So so much fun.

We went out that night to watch a film with another of Maltes friends but arrived too late and found it had been sold out. Whilst standing outside holding a conversation in English an Irish gentleman by the name of Giuseppe O’Bruadair asked where we where from. The evening ended at 5am the next day after having a wonderful evening of conversation which mainly centred about socialism and being made to feel like the new kid in class whilst talking politics. It was a true pleasure to meet such a well read individual. the only problem is that it highlighted how many more books I have to devour before I can drop little pearls of wisdom like throw away lines that other people build entire arguments around. I think the thing i learnt more than anything else was that the the study of your own language is imperative in understanding other topics. He writes leaving a trail of spelling mistakes and grammitical errors in his wake… hey ho.

So from a Berlin bar with beautiful girls serving drinks to a punk club on the other side of the city with lots of young angry kids dressed with bullets on their belts and pool with german rules.

Cycling back to where we had a place to sleep past the airport that the allieds used to airdrop the supplies into Berlin to wake up again a few hours later to amke the way out of the city.

Due to the late start we ended up cycling out of Berlin, past the soviet memorial to the ruissian soldeiers that perished in the final days of the war as they advandced into the city and went through god opnly knows where to reach one of Malte’s friends who lives about 30 miles out of the city.

Malte’s friend Patrick lives on what was once a Stassi listening post. Nestled away in 40 hectres of grounds that they bought for just 110,000 euros seven years ago they are nigh on completely self sufficient. they have wind turbines left from the previous occupent for their electricity, they dumpster dive for food, they have a cob sauna, reed bed water filitration, swimming pool (in the process of being bulilt) a huge dance room for events with decks, sound system the lot, an open kitchen, guest bed rooms, community bicycle shops, a wood shop and a metal shop that was obtained for free (simply incredible the stuff they had managed to acquire) living rooms, showers, everything a small community needs.

I think one of my favourite moments of this trip so far is going to a composting toilet in the woods, walking past a variety of caravans, yurts and tipis early in the morning to sit down and look out onto a thatched hut that a german couple had made out of reeds and cob over the last 18 months, just as a girl with dreads walked past as if it was the most normal thing in the world to put wood in a wheel barrow for her stove as a man sits on the toilet not 20 yards away.

A very very different world. I knew these places existed but I had no knowledge to what extent. The full time members number approximetely 50 and with guest coming in and out in th summer months there are normally about 150 people who live there. Bearing in mind that you can stay for free, eat for free, get clothed for free and learn an enormous amount from some very clever people it makes you think about the advantages of twenty five years of working for the bank… They ask for a monthly donation which is very very low but the point that came across more than anything is that people have managed to do an awful lot with very little money. Added to the fact that reclaiming a Stassi listening post can only be a good thing.

I should also mention the cancer researcher I met. Sorry man I forget your name, I have it written down but not with me know as I was going to check your pictures on flickr – but if you get round to reading this thanks for the good conversation. Like I said you always meet twice.

I should also pay homage to the guy who just made two recumberent bicycle from a mixture of old parts who then gave them to two other people who are cycling to mongolia. Yeah cycling to mongolia on a home made recumberent bicycle. that kinda rains on my parade no?

Day 16

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I am sat in Magdeburg, my legs are aching, I am drinking bad coffee in an internet cafe that sells hard liquor and I have just spent half an hour trying to explain in a german bicycle shop that I need to replace the cleats for the pedals on my bike. Anway.. enough of such nonsense I am two days away from Berlin. The clock reads 672.2 miles 72.2 of which where done yesterday through driving snow. The wind was so strong as I came down from Goslar that I was having to steer the bike into the wind just to stay on the road. It is fun until you run out of energy then you question why on earth you are doing this. As did the very nice fat man in a brand new BMW who as he drove past gave the international symbol for ‘what the **** are you doing?’. Thanks for that. Wait till the oil runs out  :)

But in saying that one hour earlier I had a man in a gas line repair van pull an emergancy stop, come running over and tell me how much he wants to cycle again. In his youth he had cycled down from germany to yugoslavia and now wishes to repeat the experince and ride to his daughter in Linz. We chatted about the best way to get there, then looking at my bike he laughs and say’s ‘I do not have 24 gears like you, I have only 5. But 5 is all you need’. Anybody who can ride a fully loaded bike with just 5 gears deserves a medal. We swapped contact details and I rode away smiling as yet another huge bird of prey circled over head and the clouds parted to reveal the sun. 100m down the road my radio fell out of the handlebar bag, trapped itself under the rear wheel and I ended up skidding and falling off. Good and bad. Good and bad always on this trip. The radio refuses to die though. Scuffed, smashed, melted, wet with snow it still works..

The radio is a godsend as it keeps your mind off what you are doing and you get to listen to the local radio stations. the problems arises in that you are hammering alongin the middle of nowhere with the radio fairly loud, you then enter a small hamlet where you encouter half a dozen people that no offense intended look like they came in off the ark and ‘its raining men’ is blasting from the handlebar. German radio seems to be a mixture of really bad power ballards and the worst of international pop. But in saying that English radio is hardly anything to write home about away from the major cities.

So last night I came into Magdeburg and stayed with Marc from hospitality club. I was shown around the city and given a wonderful tour followed by a trip a languagecafe where people go and practise their language skills. Naturally I took the opportuitty to speak english and spoke to a gentleman who’s name I shamefully forget, who had lived in the old GDR as an engineer. I think his lasting quote was that as a pensioner in the new germany he is better off than as an engineeer in the old germany..

It was very strange, and perhps once again my ignorace has got the better of me but I always thought of Eastern Germany being further east – starting down the centre of Berlin. It took me by surprise to ride through a field in the middle of nowhere, through the cobbled roads between two non descript villages to see a sign which I could just about translate as saying that this was the site of the old dividing line between the two opposing factions.

The change is quite noticable if it is pointed out. A lot of the buildings here in magdeburg where built by communist decree and they are suprisingly nice. The change from Goslar to here though is worlds apart. Oh and as point of reference if you want to rent a very big room in the centre of magdeburg try 180 euros a month. It makes you want to cry.

So thanks again to Marc for giving me a room for the night. Today is a lazy day, a bit of sight seeing and maybe a drink tonight with another random person who stopped me half an hour ago explaining about how he too wishes to take a bicycle tour. Its almost becoming passe :)

Day 9

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Enschedee. At last, I have been seeing ‘vom der haag bis Enschedee’ for a long time and as irony will have it I lose the signs coming into the town and I never do get to see the last LF4 sign. No closure on that one then.

Its raining as is normal now. Its cold and I stop at the first hotel to ask how much it will be to stay. At 110 euros for a night I ask if there is anything cheaper in town. I am directed towards the train station where I see a sign saying bead and breakfast. As the sign is in the window of a coffeshop I can not quite work out where the rooms are. I go into the shop and find that there are private rooms in the back of the coffee shop for 20 euros a night.

I take a room from the lady who has a fag constantly hanging from her mouth and say hello to the two german residents covered in tattoos stoned off their tits watching the discovery channel entraced by a program about killer sharks.

I go for a walk and find that we are next to a gay sauna and an adult video shop. The classier side of town no less. I try and get a map for the R1 That leads to Berlin but to no avail. The man in the Dutch tourist information centre rejected any critiscm of the dutch bicycle network. Apparently its all my fault and that nobody moves or steals the signs. Fair enough. Git.

I decide to spend a day resting in Enschede so the tattooed germans and I work out an unspoken arrangment for the television remote control. I dry my kit, sleep like the dead and feel quite sad to leave the very strange and very tolerant part of the world that is Holland.

Onto to Germany then.

Day 8

Friday, March 5th, 2010

After waking up in the Caravan thinking I would have been better off sleeping outside and taking my chances I get on the bike and start cycling towards Arnhem. I am trying a new approach in that instead of making a city the end point for the day and all the stress which that entails, as you arrived exhausted, disorientated with the light starting to go down.. I try to stop off for lunch then camp on the other side.

The other side worked better than I could have imagined. I stopped at a random persons house to ask for water and if they knew of anywhere to camp. I was given a photocopy of a local map and I went off to find a camp site that was marked about 5 miles away on the map. Getting to the location I could see nothing until after asking around I found it was a local family who would allow people to put tents up in their garden.

The couple invited me into their home where I ate dinner with the three young boys that they are looking after and shared a wonderful meal. After feeding the kids kendal mint cake which in hindsight was probably not the best idea.. I played bow and arrow’s with the kids and after nearly having an arrow through my tent I was then taken on a tour to see the farm’s many cats.

The dutch couple admantely refused to take any money for either the camping or the meal so I ended up doing the dishes as a way of saying thankyou. If you want your faith in humanity restored and any misanthropic ideas quashed then get on a bicycle and go ride through the middle of nowhere.

I was waved off in the morning and at this point I realised that my camera has seen more water than it likes and has decided to die, so apologies from this point onwards that there are no photos.